In honor of Earth Day and leading up to the 150th Anniversary of
Arbor Day, The Morton Arboretum launched its Centennial Tree Planting Initiative to plant 3,000 trees throughout the seven-county Chicago region at a press conference with U.S. Congressmen Sean Casten and Bill Foster, and other state and local officials in attendance.
As part of the Arboretum’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2022, President and CEO Gerard T. Donnelly, Ph.D., introduced the first tree that will be planted for the Initiative, a specially cultivated Centennial linden (Tilia ‘Zamoyskiana’ CentennialTM). The linden was produced from a tree in the Arboretum’s collections that was originally obtained from the Kórnik Arboretum in Poland in 1934. The tree is rare in the U.S., including in the Chicago region, but soon will have more of a presence.
“The regional forest needs a greater diversity of trees to be resilient to threats including climate change, pests, and diseases,” Donnelly said, adding that the lindens will be among some 20 diverse tree species planted from April 2022 to May 2023.
The major tree-planting initiative is funded entirely through philanthropic contributions to the Arboretum, with a major gift from Susan and Stephen Baird that will increase the total number of trees planted from the original 1,000 announced in 2021 to 3,000.
According to the 2020 Chicago Region Tree Census conducted by the Arboretum, the regional forest provides $416 million in estimated value each year in the form of green infrastructure services such as pollution removal, energy savings, stormwater management and many other benefits.
However, Donnelly said that the census revealed that invasive European buckthorn, which dominates the region (36% of all trees), and a loss of millions of ash trees due to an emerald ash borer pest infestation are among significant concerns that will impact the region for years to come.
“There is an urgent need to remove invasive species while also planting diverse trees that are distributed more equitably throughout the region to ensure a sustainable forest for the next century and beyond,” Donnelly stressed.
The Arboretum CEO thanked Rep. Casten, along with Sen. Dick Durbin, for their leadership in obtaining $750,000 in federal Community Project Funding to support Arboretum and Chicago
Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) projects to improve the urban forest. Casten also led the effort to increase federal funding for the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forest program to an all-time high of $36 million for fiscal year 2022, as well as $4 million for urban reforestation and tree planting in communities that lost ash trees due to the emerald ash borer pest.
Rep. Casten noted that evidence-based policies and forward-thinking approaches such as tree research and planting are needed to address some of today’s most pressing issues, including climate change. Casten said, “The Morton Arboretum is a global leader in tree research, notably related to developing climate-resistant trees and partnering with under-resourced communities to plant trees.”
Donnelly recognized Foster as a champion for sustained federal funding for scientific research and STEM education. “The Arboretum’s scientific research shows there is value in expanding and diversifying our region’s forests,” Foster said. “Communities and residents throughout the Chicagoland area will enjoy the natural benefits provided by these trees for decades to come.”
Approximately 21 different species of trees will be planted with the help of hundreds of local volunteers through the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI), which was established by the Arboretum in 2014 as a partnership for coordinated action to improve the health, diversity, and equitable distribution of trees in the Chicago region. It is now the largest initiative of its kind in the U.S., with 14 lead organizations and more than 200 partners from industry, community, and government organizations.
Also participating in the event were state legislators Sen. Laura Ellman, Rep. Terra Costa Howard, and Rep. Amy Grant, as well as representatives from four communities that lost trees in a tornado on June 21, 2021—Naperville, Woodridge, Darien, and Downers Grove Township—which are receiving more than 300 of the trees.
“For 100 years, The Morton Arboretum has played an essential role in helping people appreciate and experience the many benefits of trees,” Donnelly noted. “The trees that are planted this year will contribute to a sustainable, climate-resilient future for this region for generations to come.”